The Grand Design ain’t so grand, and as for design?

A review over at The Economist has this to say of Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow’s new book, The Grand Design. Particularly curious is the assertion of Hawking and Mlodinow that “philosophy is dead”.

There is a potted history of physics, which is adequate as far as it goes, though given what the authors have to say about Aristotle, one can only hope that they are more reliable about what happened billions of years ago at the birth of the universe than they are about what happened in Greece in the fourth century BC. Their account appears to be based on unreliable popularisations, and they cannot even get right the number of elements in Aristotle’s universe (it is five, not four).

The authors rather fancy themselves as philosophers, though they would presumably balk at the description, since they confidently assert on their first page that “philosophy is dead.” It is, allegedly, now the exclusive right of scientists to answer the three fundamental why-questions with which the authors purport to deal in their book. Why is there something rather than nothing? Why do we exist? And why this particular set of laws and not some other?

It is hard to evaluate their case against recent philosophy, because the only subsequent mention of it, after the announcement of its death, is, rather oddly, an approving reference to a philosopher’s analysis of the concept of a law of nature, which, they say, “is a more subtle question than one may at first think.” There are actually rather a lot of questions that are more subtle than the authors think. It soon becomes evident that Professor Hawking and Mr Mlodinow regard a philosophical problem as something you knock off over a quick cup of tea after you have run out of Sudoku puzzles.

Of these sorts of philosophical leaps as well as the assertion that science has superseded it, C.S. Lewis wrote,

If the solar system was brought about by an accidental collision, then the appearance of organic life on this planet was also an accident, and the whole evolution of Man was an accident too. If so, then all our present thoughts are mere accidents–the accidental by-product of the movement of atoms. And this holds for the thoughts of the materialists and astronomers as well as for anyone else’s. But if their thoughts–i.e. of Materialism and Astronomy–are merely accidental by-products, why should we believe them to be true? I see no reason for believing that one accident should be able to give me a correct account of all the other accidents. It’s like expecting that the accidental shape taken by the splash when you upset a milk-jug should give you a correct account of how the jug was made and why it was upset.

Planet 51

Over at Space.com is a report of an exoplanet (a planet orbiting another star) which is at an optimal orbit around it’s star–one which is favorable to life. Astrophysicist Steven Vogt has this to say about the discovery.

“Personally, given the ubiquity and propensity of life to flourish wherever it can, I would say, my own personal feeling is that the chances of life on this planet are 100 percent,” said Steven Vogt, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, during a press briefing today. “I have almost no doubt about it.”

How does “life flourish wherever it can”? If “life happens” why can’t it happen anywhere?

The Chaste Beams of the Watery Moon

If you hadn’t noticed, the Moon is full today.

Oberon, in a Midsummer’s Night Dream says the Moon is ‘watery’. Indeed, from our vantage point, it looks to be covered in lakes. Even the ancients noticed the effect the Moon had on the tides. Luna was even imagined to ride in a canoe as she phased.

Shakespeare in a Midsummer Night’s Dream employs the literary imagery and symbolism which Luna provides. In fact, Midsummer Night’s Dream had to take place under the Moon who influences the actions of both the real and fairy worlds: making men wander and enchanting them.

Here’s C.S. Lewis on the Moon or Luna.

“Lady LUNA, in light canoe,
By friths and shallows of fretted cloudland
Cruises monthly; with chrism of dews
And drench of dream, a drizzling glamour,
Enchants us–the cheat! changing sometime
A mind to madness, melancholy pale,
Bleached with gazing on her blank count’nance
Orb’d and ageless. In earth’s bosom
The shower of her rays, sharp-feathered light
Reaching downward, ripens silver,
Forming and fashioning female brightness,
–Metal maidenlike. Her moist circle
Is nearest earth”

from “The Planets” by C.S. Lewis

A Wandering View

On Thursday night, April 15, you will have a wonderful opportunity to view all the naked eye planets in one night.

Via Space.com

Here’s a map of the night sky to help guide you.

If you stay up all night or rise in the morning to see Jupiter’s ascent. You will have seen all seven of the Medieval planetary bodies: the sun and moon, too.

What’s out there?

Over at space.com there are some pretty stunning photos taken from the European Southern Observatory in Chile. We are raising a generation who have no concept of what a stunning promise was made to Abraham that his descendants would be more numerous than the stars in the sky.

In addition Gene Edward Veith over at Cranach notes that one of the subjects of the Medieval quadrivium as astronomy. Relegated to sci-fi fans or freshman seeking a credit for general college, astronomy has largely lost its Medieval import as a study of the heavens.

I think I’ll go outside and look up.